Article and Photos by Irene Cooper
The 2018 World MUSE Conference celebrated its sixth year Saturday at The Tower Theatre in Downtown Bend, Oregon, with a full day of inspiration and thought provoking presentations from over 30 keynote speakers and performers. MUSE founder and director Amanda Stuermer, along with directors Tracy Treu and Cynthia LaRoche, steered the event. Stuermer grounded the day with a deep breath and a nod to Gloria Steinem, who famously noted, “God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions.” Stuermer then extended an invitation for the packed house to meditate on the question, Why are you here?
“In this moment…” served as this year’s unifying thread, a notion the audience circled back to again and again throughout the day’s many extraordinary moments. Indeed, to drop out of the moment as it was happening would have meant missing out on something fantastic, be it a moment of humor, of awareness, of wisdom, of opportunity, or of empathy and compassion.
MUSE Vision & Purpose
The World MUSE mission reads as follows:
World MUSE inspires women to create positive social change from within. Our mission is to connect women to their own sense of purpose as well as to each other, and to provide the tools and support they need to create positive change in their lives, in their communities, and in our world.
This vision and purpose played out onstage with dance, music, conversation, and video both recorded and live-streamed. A receptive and animated crowd kept the conversation going in the lobby of the Tower, on the streets of downtown Bend, and in local eateries during the lunch break and at dinner.
The MUSE Hub took up residence at The Liberty Theatre with retail tables, art exhibitions, art making, and a cozy-chic greenroom-style lounge for pass holders and participants to relax between events. Up front, Portland artist Julie Keefe set up shop for Bendites and visitors to participate in her project, Messages to a President, wherein individuals write a message to the President directly onto a portrait of themselves taken right there and then.
Celebrating Conscious Activism
Saturday’s epic event was interspersed with MUSE films, including an interview with Tarana Burke, civil rights activist and founder of the Me Too campaign, who spoke to the opportunities for healing within the movement. Another filmed segment featured Janna Jihad, a young Palestinian journalist who documents the Israeli occupation. Janna was scheduled to attend, but was prevented by an Israeli travel ban. Her friend, human rights activist Nadia Meer, stood in.
Bisected by lunch, the jam-packed program unfolded like this:
- Subashini Ganesan, or Suba, current Portland Creative Laureate, led the day’s presentations and storytelling with a wondrously expressive and percussive dance
- Tricia Wilder, Regional Manager of Planned Parenthood, sat with Ruth Williamson to discuss hurtling through a tube of ice at 80 mph head first on a bobsled, and how that compares to showing up every day to ensure health services for women and men in Central Oregon
- Serita Wesley, Rebecca Russell, & Meron Medhanie, founders of On She Goes: A Travel Platform for Women of Color, discussed traveling outside the comfort zone and belonging in the world
- Zilaida Salgueiro, founder of Locals Compass, took the stage with interviewer Kelly Kearsley to discuss the challenges of creating a start up business, and the separate set of criteria women face when trying to attract investors and raise capital
- Lisa Wade shared her findings on sexual behavior and attitudes on college campuses from her book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus. Wade suggests young people would be happier and healthier if they allowed themselves to demonstrate more caring toward others and themselves, a shift she referred to as “feminizing the hookup”
- Portland activists Julie Keefe (Portland’s first Creative Laureate), Carrie Sturrock (We Hire Refugees), & Kirsten Hunter (Nasty Women Get Sh*t Done), talked with René Mitchell about grass roots activism and creative response to ongoing issues of immigration and refugee status in our residential and business communities
- REI Force of Nature Mirna Valerio, teacher, professionally trained singer, and ultra-marathoner, MUSEd with Lauren Fleshman, then took us higher with a rendition of the spiritual, “Over My Head”
- Marching for Our Lives, a panel discussion with students and activists Ily Logeais, Lauren Hough, & Vinna Ottavio, moderated by Ruth Williamson
- Nadia Meer discussed the social activism of Janna Jihad with Jenny Green
- Activist Nelly Lukale of Hope in Action talked with Shanan Kelley about education around menstruation in her native Kenya, distributing product, and living out of a “briefcase office”
- Teen MUSE Club Members: six local young women performed an original poem collaged from the words of 100 Central Oregon middle and high school teenagers, a reminder that MUSE grew from a strong dedication to empowering the voices of young women. Artist Teafly Peterson facilitated the creation of the poem and developed the powerful and moving performance with club members
- Haley Heynderickx played a selection from her new album, I Need to Start a Garden, and spoke with Nicole Vulcan about being an awkward teenager with awkward dreams
- Jeannine Harvey, Isabel Kallman, & Nancy Friedman introduced their campaign, Feed Our Democracy
- Brittany K. Barnett sat with Molly Carroll to discuss Girls Embracing Mothers, an organization Barnett founded to maintain connections between daughters and their incarcerated mothers
- Sally Kohn pondered the limits and possibilities of compassion, along with unlikely friendship, while making everyone laugh and promoting her book, The Opposite of Hate
- Author Kate Fagan discussed her book, What Made Maddy Run, and broached questions of cultural expectations and suicide with Dr. Melody Moore
- Mark Gonzales, storyteller, futurist, and Institute of Narrative Growth CEO, implored us to wage beauty
- Entrepreneur Mandy Multerer shared her experience as CEO of My Sister, an apparel company that raises awareness and money to eradicate human trafficking
- Kelly Oxford, writer & founder of #NotOkay, shared her experience of sharing her experience of sexual assault on social media with Kerri Kelli
To close the day, Amanda Steurmer spoke with Betty Reid Soskin, 96, National Park Ranger at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, who said, in addressing the question of her longevity and all around fabulousness: “I live a contemporary life.”
So it was Betty, of course—daughter, wife, mother, former business owner, African American history preserver, African American history maker, author of the book Sign My Name to Freedom, citizen, recipient of the Presidential seal from Barack Obama, National Park Ranger, blogger, and living MUSE, who ushered us to the end of the conference, underscoring its theme and pulling the thread taut: “I am continually living in a constant state of surprise. I’m having first experiences at 96…I have always lived a contemporary life. My life has always been now.”
Drop the mic—MUSE out.